We read in 2 Kings 14:23–7 of a Galilean prophet called Jonah, son of Amittai, who successfully predicted a national expansion for Israel in the reign of Jeroboam II (786–746 BCE). The book of Jonah, which appears on literary, linguistic, and historical grounds to have been written in the fourth century, tells a story about this prophet designed to show the limits of mere nationalism as an expression of the purposes of God. Faced with the challenge of addressing God's word to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh, Jonah flees the task. Brought back and recommissioned by God he at length undertakes it, only to be dismayed by the comprehensive repentance of the Ninevites and consequent forgiveness by God, whose nature is always to have mercy. Jonah's error was to magnify God's wrath at the expense of his compassion.
Passages of the Old Testament known to our author appear to include Jer 18:8 (‘if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it’)—cf. Jon 3:10 —and Joel 2:13–14 , which significantly includes the phrase ‘and relents from punishing’ cited in Jon 4:2 (cf. 3:9 ) despite its being absent from the original Hebrew formulation of God's character in Ex 34:6–7 . There are also echoes of the Elijah story (1 Kings 19:4–5, cf. Jon 4:6–8 ) and of Ezekiel's lament over Tyre (Ezek 26:16, cf. Jon 3:6; Ezek 27:25–9, cf. Jon 1:3–6 ). That the book is hazy about the details of the city of Nineveh and also contains a sufficient number of Aramaic expressions to locate it comfortably after the period of Ezra (see below) both indicate, as also do its quotations, a context in the post-exilic era, more particularly in the period of Judah's increasing awareness and acceptance of foreigners in and after the fourth century. This book is of a different order from the other prophetic books, having the form of a story rather than being a collection of prophetic oracles.